Jake’s Take: Way Too Early MLB Postseason Predictions

The Major League Baseball season is just about one-seventh of the way finished, so, of course, it’s time for what I like to call Way Too Early MLB Postseason Predictions. In this segment, I will be giving my expert predictions on the outcome of the MLB regular season, including final records and division and wild card winners. These predictions are based mainly on how each team has fared thus far in the season, but there is a bit of foresight used in the deciphering of these predictions, especially when it comes to the bottom of the National League. Nevertheless, below are the 10 teams that I think will perform well enough to earn a spot in the postseason. I have also provided my projected 162-game record for each team to help differentiate between seeds. Well, here it is. Welcome to the first annual Way Too Early MLB Postseason Predictions.

American League

 

1) Detroit Tigers (98-64)

The Detroit Tigers have gotten off to a very predictable start. Anyone could you tell that the Tigers were going to be good this year, but no one could put a finger on just how good. Preseason predictions put the Tigers anywhere from the top seed in the AL to missing the playoffs altogether. As you can see, I’m going with them at the top. This is because they have the best starting pitching rotation in the AL even with the loss of Justin Verlander. He should be coming back soon, though, and his presence in the rotation is only going to give the Tigers the boost they need to keep this good start going. It also doesn’t hurt to have the best pure hitter in the world, Miguel Cabrera, sitting right in the heart of your lineup either. The only thing that could trip up the Tigers would be injuries. If another clubhouse morale guy goes down, the Tigers may not be able to recover, but nothing that debilitating should occur, giving Detroit a fairly easy road to the top spot in the American League.

2) New York Yankees (91-71)

After being the laughingstock (dare I say, the Los Angeles Lakers) of the MLB two years ago, the New York Yankees have quietly rebuilt themselves into a postseason contender once again, and they are poised to make their 52nd postseason appearance in franchise history. With a corps that features previously-unknowns Didi Gregorius, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, the Yankees are just getting it done any way they can. Their hitting isn’t dominating anyone with their .246 team batting average, but their pitching is definitely getting done, posting an MLB fifth-best 3.23 team ERA. This is a huge change from the previous Yankees teams that boasted big bats like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui in the Yankees’ last World Series championship team in 2009. Like the ‘09 Yankees, the pitching is very good. The starting rotation is now being led by Michael Pineda, but one cannot ever discount the effect that CC Sabathia has as a veteran presence on the pitching staff, and that’s a big reason why the Yankees are going so far this season. They have a great mix of veteran leaders and youthful talent, giving them their best chance in years to make a deep run in the postseason.

3) Houston Astros (89-73)

The Houston Astros have been the surprise team of the early season, and it’s been surprisingly efficient. Dallas Keuchel is pitching out of his mind and dominating opponents with a 0.80 ERA, .139 BAA (batting average against), 0.76 WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) and 30 strikeouts in just 45 innings pitched. As they say, numbers never lie, and that is certainly true in this case. No one has been able to touch Keuchel this season, and I expect that to go on through the rest of the year because this southpaw that has been able to reinvent himself as one of the premier pitchers in this league. Keuchel is a huge part of Houston’s success thus far, but their offense has been much better than advertised this season. They’re sixth in the MLB with a .422 slugging percentage and first in the league with 36 stolen bases, not to mention their ninth-best .734 on-base percentage and third-best 104 walks that generate a great number of those stolen bases. This year, no one is playing a better all-around game than the ‘Stros. From offense to defense to pitching, this team has no distinct flaws, and they’re going to be very scary nearing the end of the year.

Wild Card 1) Kansas City Royals (92-70)

Checking in at the top wild card spot are the defending AL-champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals have just as good as the Tigers in the opening stages of this season, but I don’t think they have the depth to stick it out and beat the Tigers for the division win this season. They’re still a very young team, so they’ll have their chances in the future, but this season they’ll have to be content with another wild card. That’s not to say that the Royals are bad, because they are most definitely not, but they do have their weaknesses. First, their offense is extremely streaky. They’ll have stretches of five, six victories, then they’ll get into a slump for the same five or six games that they’ll struggle through. If the Royals can cut down on the streakiness, they’ll be a lot better off at the end of the season. One major bright spot for Kansas City is their bullpen. If the Royals have a lead in the seventh inning, the game is essentially over. The Kansas City bullpen is where batting averages go to die. The Royals boast Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland as the three shut-down men at the back end of the bullpen, and hardly anyone has been able to hit them in the past two seasons. It’s rare that the bullpen will lead a team, but that is what is happening in Kansas City, and it definitely works for them.

Wild Card 2) Boston Red Sox (86-76)

Wrapping up the AL, we have the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox won the World Series just two years ago in 2013, but they tanked to a 71-91 record last year. If recent history is any indicator, then the Red Sox should do well this season. It’s hard, though, to see them doing too well with all of the turnover in the clubhouse. Many of the core players that Boston is counting on to do well this season are new to this team in the past few years like Hanley Ramirez (now day-to-day with a sore left shoulder) and Pablo Sandoval, both of whom were big splashes on the free agent market this past offseason. One big part of the game of baseball is camaraderie, and it’s hard to create the kind of cohesiveness that is necessary when the roster has so much turnover from year to year. This lack of camaraderie in the clubhouse will be the downfall of the Red Sox, and that is something that they have struggled with a lot in the past. This lack of camaraderie is why ex-manager Bobby Valentine was fired, and the same cause will be why the Red Sox just squeak into the playoffs.

National League

 

1) St. Louis Cardinals (101-61)

ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 18: Batting practice before a baseball game at Busch Stadium between the Cardinals and Padres, with both teams fighting for a playoff berth, on September 18, 2010 in St. Louis. (photo from shutterstock.com)

ST. LOUIS – SEPTEMBER 18: Batting practice before a baseball game at Busch Stadium between the Cardinals and Padres, with both teams fighting for a playoff berth, on September 18, 2010 in St. Louis. (photo from shutterstock.com)

Only one word can be used to describe the St. Louis Cardinals’ season so far this season- wow. That one word is

loaded with every emotion from incredulousness to awe. The Cardinals started this season 22-7, their best start since 1899 when they were known as the Perfectos, a moniker that was well-deserved as that team finished with the best record in franchise history up to that point with an 84-67 record. The current incarnation of the St. Louis baseball club looks to finish with a slightly better winning percentage than that .556 of the Perfectos, and that is a goal that they will achieve. The Cardinals are just steamrolling their opponents in all facets of the game. They’ve dominated opposing pitching with an MLB fourth-best .273 team batting average, and their pitching has shut down opposing hitters with an MLB-best 2.53 ERA as a team to go along with a sixth-best .233 BAA and 1.17 WHIP. Of course, we all knew that the Cardinals’ pitching would be great this season, and I would say that it’s been the best in all of baseball, but the offense was the biggest question mark. The Cardinals have not been a team that will hit a lot of homeruns in recent years, but they still hit enough to keep outfielders and pitchers wary of their power. All things considered, this is going to be a great season for St. Louis baseball, and this hot start is just a fraction of what is to come for this team.

2) Los Angeles Dodgers (96-66)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have not been on the same kind of early-season roll as the Cardinals, but they are still one of the best teams in the game. The Dodgers have a rare balance of speed and athleticism at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field. This gives them a great advantage in every part of the game even after giving up their best all-around player, Matt Kemp, in a trade to the San Diego Padres. Not only are the Dodgers a fast, athletic team, they are also very powerful. Right now, they lead the MLB in slugging percentage with a .484 mark and an .827 OPS (on-base+slugging percentage). These league-leading power stats show that the Dodgers are one of the best all-around teams in the MLB, especially when you take their pitching staff into account. Clayton Kershaw, their crafty and overpowering lefty ace, has been a consistent source of winning and morale in the dugout even when he has gotten off to a slow start like in this year with his current 3.72 ERA and 1-2 record, but just Kershaw’s presence in the dugout is enough to keep this team playing with all of the heart and soul that they can. This play style gives the Dodgers a huge advantage when September and the postseason roll around.

3) New York Mets (91-71)

Another big surprise this season has been the New York Mets. The Mets came into this season, as with most of their recent seasons, with bleak aspirations. From the first pitch of the 2015 season, though, things seemed different for the Mets. Their ace, Matt Harvey, was to return from Tommy John surgery as the season began, the fans seemed more energized and the team as a whole was simply more enthusiastic about the prospect of playing the great game of baseball. This enthusiasm made the difference, as the Mets are attempting to conjure up their first winning season since 2008, and, according to my prediction, they will win the NL East for the first time since 2007, which was also the last year that the team made the playoffs. This will be a season of breaking slumps for the Mets, and it will be a season of breaking the bets of doubters. A 90-win season is no small feat for a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs in seven years, and that is exactly what the Mets plan (and will) do this season.

Wild Card 1) San Diego Padres (89-73)

Speaking of teams that haven’t seen the playoffs in a while, we have the San Diego Padres. The city of San Diego hasn’t seen the MLB postseason since 2006, and they haven’t experienced a winning record since 2010. Both of those things will change this year, as the Padres have their best team in a long, long time. With blockbuster trades for key players like Matt Kemp and Craig Kimbrel and fantastic offseason moves for guys like James Shields have given the Padres a much better team than fans anticipated. Now, all of these deals for players that are good right now will not bode well for the team in the future because of the uncertainty and unreliability of players to perform after their prime, but right now is all that matters for San Diego. Sure, they’ve gotten off to a .500 start with a 15-15 record, but even going .500 is much better than they’ve been in recent years. To say that a mediocre 2015 season would be a success would be a bit of an understatement, but hopes were not too high when 2014 ended. Anything like what I have predicted would be a great success in San Diego, and as I have said, it shall be done.

Wild Card 2) Washington Nationals (89-73)

Finally, we’ve reached the end of this prediction. Unlike the Padres, the Washington Nationals had extremely high hopes heading into this season. They finished last year with a great 96-66 record and the best record in the National League. They even bolstered their starting pitching rotation with the addition of Max Scherzer to give the Nationals the outright best starting rotation in all of baseball. Their bats were poised to be some of the best in baseball too. Their lineup was chock full of solid players like Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth to provide Washington with plenty of offense. Somehow, absolutely none of this panned out. At the plate, the Nationals are 19th in batting average with a team mark of .239, and they’ve posted the 10th worst slugging percentage at .376. On the mound, they have a team ERA of 3.42 that is good for seventh in the league, but they’ve allowed the fifth-worst BAA mark at .268. Neither the hitting nor the pitching is there for Washington right now, but they should be able to right the ship in time. I don’t know when it will happen, but the Washington Nationals are going to get back on track in time to snag a wild card spot in this season.

 

All stats from mlb.com, baseball-reference.com and espn.go.com, and are accurate as of 11 p.m. on May 7

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